Trekking Couple Circles Planet Three Times In 424 Days

trekking

They started trekking the planet more than a year ago, promising to travel the globe bringing children in classrooms from around the world with them, virtually, as they visited scores of countries and continents. Now their journey is complete and Darren and Sandy Van Soye are back to tell about it.

The story begins in February 2012, when the couple from Southern California started on a global adventure to raise awareness about world geography and make the subject more accessible to children. Hoping to visit 50 countries on six continents in 424 days, they planned to share the journey with more than 700 classrooms representing 50,000 students.

“Our dream is to educate children about geography and world cultures so we’ve planned the ultimate trek around the world to do just that,” Sandy Van Soye told Gadling when they began. In January of this year after passing the 50,000 mile mark, they had stopped in 40 countries with another dozen or so to go before returning to the United Sates. At the time, they had already beaten their own projections with 850 classrooms in 20 countries following their journey online.

Now with their world trek complete, the Van Soyes have traveled a total of 77,000 miles or the equivalent of three times around the earth at its equator. Their trek is an impressive amount of travel in such a short period of time for sure. But how they went about it is even more interesting.Starting on January 28, 2012, the journey began aboard a cruise ship, Princess CruisesPacific Princess, a small ship, which proved to be an efficient mode of transportation.

“We used cruise ships to get us between continents so that we could see more of the world,” said Sandy Van Soye. Spending 97 days of the nearly 500-day trek at sea the couple racked up 35 ports in 18 countries. An impressive number but travel via cruise ship is not the fastest way to be sure. From San Diego, it took 29 days to reach Sydney Australia, normally a 16- or 17-hour flight. But along the way, they visited Hawaii, American Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand.

trekkingAfter a seven-day trek in Tasmania, the team boarded another cruise ship, Ocean Princess to travel near Australia’s eastern coast, along the way visiting the Great Barrier Reef, the city of Darwin, Bali, Indonesia, and Ko Samui, Thailand, before arriving in Singapore. At each stop, they selected travel plans that would show students following along the natural beauty and unique people they encountered.

On land for the next eight months via a series of multiple day hikes, they visited 27 more countries in Asia, Europe and Africa before boarding the Pacific Princess in Rome. That Mediterranean sailing crossed the Atlantic Ocean, sailing up the Amazon River all the way to Manaus, Brazil.

Two months on land took them through 4,600 miles of South America before the final leg of their trek a voyage on Star Princess in Valparaíso, Chile, for their fifth and final cruise home.

trekkingOf all the places they went, which was their favorite? Kenya because of its rich culture and natural beauty

“It is a place that kids (have) heard of, so it was a pleasure to go there and talk more about it,” said Sandy of their visit to three Kenyan schools, one in the Maasai Mara and two in the Samburu region.

The biggest surprise along the way? Riga, Latvia

“There was just so much to see and do here and, though it is a capital city, it was relatively inexpensive,” said Sandy.

In addition to a lifetime of memories, the Van Soye’s trek produced a library of 60 four-page education modules for teachers available as supplements to existing classroom materials.
Also, their Trekking the Planet website contains free articles, quizzes, more than 70 documentary videos and a summary infographic: “Trekking The Planet: By The Numbers.

So is that the end of the road for this couple? Hardly.

Driven by the fact that nearly a third of U.S. young adults cannot locate the Pacific Ocean on a map, Trekking the Planet hopes to help educators change these statistics with future geography-oriented projects.


[Photo credit - TrekkingThePlanet]

Antarctica For Sissies? Hardly, As Luxury Cruise Line Turns New Page

Antarctica

Antarctica draws the dreams of many and the visits of just a few. Located so very far from civilization, travel to Antarctica is the stuff of hearty explorers, burly men of substance and adventure travelers. Luxury cruise ships and their pampered passengers? Not so much. Until now.

Seabourn has a fleet of small ships that travel around the world to amazing locations in opulent luxury, something we rarely talk about here.

After all, does ultra-luxury cruising really qualify as “travel” anyway?

Probably so when it’s a 21-night expedition sailing from Buenos Aires, Argentina, stopping by Montevideo, Uruguay, then the Falkland Islands before spending five days in Antarctica, running Zodiac landings to a variety of ridiculously amazing places.

OK, maybe that’s sort of traveling.

Antarctica
Agreed, but that’s before continuing on to Ushuaia, Argentina, followed by scenic cruising in the Beagle Channel, then on through Glacier Alley and the Cockburn Channel before a stop in Punta Arenas, Chile, which of course you need before passing through the Straight of Magellan followed by scenic cruising in Canal Sarmiento where the ship passes by the Amalia Glacier followed by a day in the Chilean Fjords.

Do I have your attention yet? No? Let’s press on.


Up next is a day in Puerto Chacabuco, Chile, then on to Puerto Montt, Chile, for the day just before a day spent scenic cruising Reloncavi Sound. Finally, those left standing will spend a day at sea before disembarking in Valparaiso (Santiago), Chile.

AntarcticaSound like a bucket-list adventure? Operationally, it’s no big deal for Seabourn. Their small yacht-like ships run itineraries from just a few days to a year-long, around-the-world voyage and have had almost all the luxury cruise travel bases covered.

Now, adding to its destination-focused roster of itineraries, Seabourn is heading south. But make no mistake about it; they are prepared.

Antarctic sailings have traditionally been the exclusive domain of expedition ships for good reason. Fortified ship hulls are extra thick and ice rated, a designation that provides an extra measure of safety in what can be brutal sea conditions. This is not a part of the world where luxury liners float around with passengers lining the decks sipping umbrella drinks to be sure, and that’s not what Seabourn has in store for those they take to the white continent.

AntarcticaTo customize Seabourn Quest for these adventures, they transformed the marina built into the ship, normally used by passengers for complimentary water sports, to house and launch multiple Zodiacs.

Who is going on these voyages? Seabourn past-passengers who have been asking for it along with first-timers who want to knock Antarctica “off their bucket list,” Seabourn’s John Delaney told Gadling, as excited about the new itineraries as a kid on Christmas Eve. “It’s the one continent we did not sail to,” explained Delaney.

Each Seabourn sailing to Antarctica and Patagonia includes five days of zodiac landings and expeditions to selected Antarctic locations. As a bonus, Seabourn Quest‘s small size will enable the ship to get closer to land, offering unprecedented wildlife viewing and the photo opportunities associated with Antarctic expedition cruising … with a twist.

AntarcticaAlso on board, will be an expedition team that makes up a who’s who of naturalists, scientists, and political and historical experts with decades of Antarctic experience, including experts in wildlife and exploration – adventure travelers who have been there and done that.

Each night, they will choose from hundreds of landing areas for the following day, to bring ships up close and ensure that zodiac landings can happen, based on decades of experience.

Award-winning photographers will also be on board to offer digital photography coaching, helping guests capture exciting wildlife images while sharing their knowledge, guidance and passion for Antarctica.

Three 21-day sailings, like the one detailed above, are planned. They are filling up fast and look to be a staple on the Seabourn roster of itineraries in future years as well.

An even longer, 24-day sailing does all of the above plus a stop at South Georgia Island, arguably “as interesting if not more so than Antarctica itself,” added Delaney.

The Seabourn plan promises to be far more than a fancy ship with some extra safety measures slapped on for show too, although they will be running the only all-suite ship in the area. Each passenger will receive an expedition-grade parka (emblazoned with the Seabourn logo) and a backpack. In addition, for those who need the right gear, passengers will have access to an experienced outfitter via the Seabourn website.

So what will it cost to come along?

Prices start at $14,999 per person, a bit over $700 per person, per day.
Yes, you could buy a car for that.
Sissies would buy the car.




[Image credit - Seabourn]

The Patagonian Expedition Race: A Hellish Endurance Test In A Heavenly Setting

patagonian expedition raceIt starts at midnight with a 108-kilometer mountain bike ride into the teeth of a biting Patagonian wind. And then, in the morning, there is the brutal realization that there is another 593 more kilometers of mountain biking, trekking and sea kayaking to be completed in no more than ten days. Here’s your map and compass. Now figure out how to survive in the remote, untrammeled wilds of Patagonia.

Two years ago, I covered the Race Across America (RAAM), an insane 3,000-mile bike race that challenges sleep-deprived cyclists to sprint across the country within a 12-day time limit. The winner that year was Christoph Strasser, an Austrian bike messenger who caught a total of just 7 and a half hours sleep while crossing the country in eight days.

Earlier this week, one of Christoph’s friends sent me a message about the Patagonian Expedition Race, and after talking to Pete Clayden, a Brit who moved to Chile in 2011 to help run the race, I no longer think that the RAAM participants are the world’s craziest endurance athletes.


patagonia expedition raceThis year’s Patagonian Expedition Race is a 701-kilometer adventure that involves 300 kilometers of mountain biking, overland treks totaling 320 kilometers, and about 80 kilometers of sea kayaking across rugged, virgin terrain in Patagonia that includes majestic mountains, fjords, glaciers and ice fields. The race, which is considered one of the toughest endurance tests in the world, was the brainchild of Stjepan Pavicic, a Chilean geologist who has mapped out different courses in each of the 11 years the race has been held.

“Some of the areas we go into, we may be the first people to have gone there,” says Pete Clayden, who went to work for the race after his post in the financial sector disappeared during the Great Recession, in a recent Skype interview. “There’s a lot of completely virgin ground here, so we never have a hard time finding a new route. We try to showcase the best of the region while creating a unique, very difficult adventure for the racers.”


This year, eleven teams from around the world set off from Puerto Natales, in Chile, at midnight on Monday, February 11, for the first leg of the race – the hellish, aforementioned 108-kilometer mountain bike ride. Two days into the race, six teams were still active, two were thought to be active but hadn’t checked in, and three teams had already dropped out. Last year, 11 of the 19 four-person, co-ed teams actually finished the race.

Clayden said that this year’s race, which concluded over the weekend, was one of the toughest ever, with fierce winds and a difficult course that only three teams were able to complete in the allotted time. Team Adidas TERREX Prunesco, made up of Mark Humphreys, Sally Ozanne, Nick Gracie and Chris Near, won for the fifth consecutive year, crossing the finish line in Punta Arenas, Chile on February 20. The Japanese EastWind team finished third, with GearJunkie Yogaslackers in third.


Each team has to have at least one woman; one team has two this year. But while the women may be outnumbered, some female racers from previous years proved to be some of the competition’s fiercest competitors. Last year, a Japanese woman named Kaori Waki broke one of her ribs on the second day of the race.

patagonia expedition race“But she kept quiet about it and carried on,” Clayden says. “Her team still managed to come in third place.”

Each team is required to bring their own cooking gear, tents and supplies and there are six resupply opportunities spread out over the course. Clayden says that most teams sleep for just an hour or two per night and some suffer from sleep-deprived hallucinations.

“But a lot of the racers tend to enjoy their hallucinations,” he says. “They call them the sleep monsters.”

Teams are required to stay together, leave no trace in the pristine wilderness, and assist other teams if they are in distress. (Time spent helping other teams is deducted from a team’s race time.) Each team gets a GPS and a satellite phone but they can only use them if they’re in deep trouble and are no longer vying to win the race. Weather conditions are often brutal; on a few occasions Patagonian winds of more than 100 mph actually knocked riders off their bikes (see footage below!) and temperatures can dip below freezing.


“But the thing that really gets the racers is the terrain,” Clayden says. “For the first third of the race, they’re trekking across a glacier, working their way alongside a long section of mountains and lakes, with many river crossings. And there’s one iceberg-filled lake they’ll be crossing on a kayak. It’s an adventure playground.”

patagonia expedition raceIt costs $1,000 per team to enter the race, which attracts an eclectic mix of adventurers from around the world who work 9-5 jobs as teachers, tradesman, entrepreneurs, guides and almost any other job you can think of. And what is the prize for enduring this brutal, self-guided race?

“There is zero prize money,” says Clayden, who had just started his own sports massage business when he got the phone call that lured him down to Patagonia to work for the race. “The race is run in the Olympic spirit, solely for the honor of winning it. But there is a trophy and those who finish get a medal. People make enormous sacrifices to compete.”

A British team called Adidas TERREX Prunesco has won what is often referred to as the “Last Wild Race” four years in a row but there’s a plucky quartet of Americans who has also been in the running for the last four years. Gear junky Yoga Slackers are a husband and wife led team comprised of yoga instructors from Bend, Oregon (see videos). In most cases, however, spouses refrain from competing on the same team.

“Generally speaking this is not something you want to do with your life partner,” Clayden says, with a laugh.

When the racers reach the finish line, their feet are sore, they haven’t had a shower in a week or more and they want beer – sometimes, several beers. But Clayden says that more often than not, they come back for more, year after year.


“For most people, it’s to have a great adventure and to have it here in Patagonia,” he says. “They love the wildness of the country, the savageness of it, the intense weather and the way they are immersed in nature. It’s the world’s greatest race, because you compete in mind-blowing scenery and with three of your best friends.”

[Photo credits: Alex Buisse, Chris Radcliffe, Ulrik Hasseman and Alex Karelli from the Patagonian Expedition Race]

Trekking The Planet, Couple Passes 50,000 Mile Mark

trekking the planet

About a year ago, California couple Darren and Sandy Van Soye started trekking the planet on a global tour to raise awareness about world geography and make the subject more accessible to children. To make efficient use of their time and set an eco-friendly travel example, several legs of the journey have been traveled using Princess cruise ships. We caught up with the Van Soye’s recently for a progress report.

“We just passed the 50,000 mile mark on our journey (20,000 miles by cruise ship),” said Darren Van Soye via email this week.

The plan was to visit 50 countries, on six continents, in 424 days, sharing the journey with more than 700 classrooms representing 50,000 students. So far, Darren and Sandy have traveled to 40 countries with another dozen or so to go before returning to the United Sates.
Beating projections, 850 classrooms in 20 countries, representing 55,000 students, are following their journey online.As they have traveled the planet, the 25-year IT industry vets are compiling a library of education modules for teachers along with articles, weekly quizzes and videos, all free to educators.

trekking the planetWe can follow along too by visiting the Live Tracker feature on their Trekking The Planet website, which is becoming a rich resource for travelers as well as their intended audience, kids and classrooms.

In addition to 20,000+ miles via cruise ship, the trekking couple has traveled by rail (10,447 miles), road (7,021 miles) and air (17,035 miles).

“Our last cruise will take us from Valparaiso, Chile, to San Pedro, California,” added Van Soye.

Princess Cruises was keen on the idea from the start. The cruise line had just completed their 50 Essential Experiences: The Travel Bucket List, a year-long blog project where 15+ year Princess Cruises employees shared their personal travel stories, hoping to inspire others.

“We frequently hear stories from travelers who cruise to accomplish a goal – from celebrating milestones with family members to crossing something off their bucket list,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president in a statement. “Sandy and Darren are a great example of how cruise travel can be both relaxing and rewarding. We’re inspired by their story and we’re honored they’ve chosen Princess to help them achieve their trekking goals.”

Catching up with the Trekking the Planet team in December, Darren and Sandy review their time in Africa and the Middle East as we see in this video:




The Van Soyes will complete their global journey in March.

[Photo Credit- Trekking The Planet]

Magical Moments Of 2012: A Personal Review

As the end of each year approaches, I try to take stock of the preceding 12 months, to absorb and assess the adventures, inner and outer. Reviewing this year, I’ve been filled with gratitude and wonder to realize that this has been one of the most enriching, exhilarating years I’ve had in a long time, especially the past six months, when I managed to squeeze six special trips into an overcrowded schedule. I hope you’ll indulge me in sharing some of my most magical travel moments, and meanings, from 2012.

Festive in France

The Cote d’Azur has been one of my favorite places in the world since I first landed there in the mid-1970s. This year I was lucky to be able to savor the region for two weeks in June, visiting four places I’d never been before – Marseille, Montpelier, Sainte-Maxime, and Cagnes sur Mer – and revisiting two I’d fallen deeply in love with decades ago: Nice and St Paul de Vence.

I’ve already written about Nice and St Paul for Gadling. Among other riches of the trip, I had the best bouillabaisse of my life at the harbor-front Miramar restaurant in Marseille and was enchanted by the ambiance of student-spangled Montpelier, where a perfect cobbled square with a perfect café under a perfect canopying tree seemed to magically appear around every corner (and where the streets flowed with wine and song on the marvelous night of the Fete de la Musique). One of the most memorable highlights was spending one precious night at the Hotel Negresco two weeks before that legendary institution celebrated its 100th birthday. What an extraordinary hotel! Part priceless art collection, part history museum, part culinary temple, the Negresco – still owned by the feisty and fabulous 89-year-old Madame Augier – is emblematic of the intelligence, elegance, and artfulness that define the Cote d’Azur for me.My favorite moment of the entire trip was another birthday celebration. A very dear friend who lives part of each year in France treated me to a heavenly lunch at a renowned but well off the beaten path terrace restaurant called La Verdoyante, in the village of Gassin, about two and a half miles from the sea. I will never forget this feast. On a blue-sky day, the sun-mottled, out-of-time terrace exuded something of the atmosphere of Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette: festive people savoring a relaxing repast, with a view of rolling green vineyards and hills and a soupcon of the Mediterranean glinting in the distance. We had an amazingly flavorful succession of dishes, all artfully presented, including locally made foie gras, a delectably flaky poisson du jour served with fennel, figs and pancetta, and chevre cheese from a farm over the hill. The culinary fireworks ended with a special surprise – a scrumptious, sparkler-topped raspberry macaroon cake.

Birthday gifts don’t get any better than this: a sun-bowed, vineyard-wrapped celebration of food and friendship, a reminder of the life-riches that surround us, deepening and expanding every year.

Hawaiian Hideaway

A few days after returning from France, barely enough time to do some laundry, I repacked and rambled with my wife to Maui and Molokai on a trip I had won – won! — in a random drawing at a travel fair. On Maui we stayed at the Hotel Wailea and the Napili Kai Beach Resort and on Molokai at the Hotel Molokai. We loved aimlessly exploring both islands, stopping at beaches we found at the end of meandering paths, eating at food trucks, picnicking in parks — but especially savored the quiet of Molokai, where time truly seemed to slow down.

We wandered around the main town of Kaunakakai, poking our heads into shops, asking questions of the shopkeepers, who seemed much more interested in talking story than moving inventory. Our most memorable meal on Molokai was the mahimahi plate lunch at Mana’e Goods and Grindz, a combination country store and counter restaurant on the highway toward Halawa Valley (where you could also pick up spark plugs, videos, and sweet onion salad dressing, if needed). We loved it so much we drove back the next day for seconds.

The synthesizing moment of the trip for me was one afternoon on Maui when I sat on our patio at the Napili Kai simply absorbing the breeze that rippled the sea and rustled the palm fronds: Time slowed and slowed, the trade winds blew, the moist air swaddled my skin; suddenly a rainbow appeared, arcing from the sea into the clouds, and for a suspended moment it seemed to me that nature was offering its own snapshot of my soul. Hawaii re-taught me the value of recalibrating pace, the riches that reveal themselves when you open your head- and heart-space.

California Dreaming

In August I ventured across San Francisco Bay – a good 40 minutes by car from my home – for the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference. My journey took flight the day before the official conference began, when I led a worldly, wide-eyed group of writers on a day-long walking workshop in North Beach, my favorite city neighborhood, where old-San-Francisco Italy meets new-San-Francisco China and Vietnam. We rendered homage at City Lights bookstore, Molinari’s aromatic delicatessen, and sweet Stella’s Pastry, then talked about writing and life over paninis and lattes at Caffe Greco.

The conversations and connections that took seed that day blossomed over the ensuing four-day conference. What mysteries make sparks fly, turn piazza dialogues into life-changing detours and dreams? Whatever was in the air at this year’s conference, it begat five days of exploration and exhilaration – of the word and the world — with soul-mates old and new. The defining Book Passage moment for me came at the end of the conference, and I have already described it here, but there were many other moments of magic as well, perhaps none so potent as midnight on Saturday, when a hardy band of writers and revelers gathered around five ukulele yogis, whose plangent plucks transported me to Hawaii, France and beyond – and then back to that midnight moment in a bookstore in northern California, which suddenly seemed to contain all the world.

This five-day close-to-home odyssey reminded me once again that both travel and travel writing are vital arts, stewards of the global heart, that even in your own backyard, you can wander far-flung paths of the imagination and the soul, and that the best travels and travel writings realize a redemptive goal: to piece the inner and the outer journey, the interlocking whole.

Beached in Bali

My ten-day sojourn on Bali presented a batik of bountiful moments. I have written about two of them here, questing for indolence and discovering unexpected gamelan gifts in Ubud, but I have not yet written about the two delightful dinners on two beautiful beaches that bookended my stay.

On my first night on the island, when everything still seemed a bit surreal, I met a wandering writer friend who serendipitously happened to be on Bali at the same time. We sat at a table literally on the beach at Jimbaran Bay, our toes squiggling into the sand, swigged Bintang beers, and feasted on marvelously messy platters of grilled shrimp. We talked about books and blogs and world-weaving paths under the stars, by the susurrous sea, as music lilted down the beach on a smoke-scented breeze. Ten days later, we met again for a final dinner on a beach in Seminyak. This time the music was a pop playlist (highlighted by Adele serenading us with “Someone Like You”), the food was delicious grilled fish and beef rendang, the beach spread invitingly to the rose-tinted waves, and the oceanic sky gradually turned from bluish-red to cobalt-purple to depthless, star-splashed black.

As the hours passed, I felt like a character in a story, simultaneously in time and out of it, willing the world to slow down and in the same breath abandoning myself to the ineluctable flow. All the Balinese bounties of the week seemed to converge, and the spirit of the island – the joy and compassion and reverence for the everyday that emanated from virtually everyone I’d met – merged with a shared awe at serendipity’s mystery and wonder. Maybe it was the spell of the Bintang, but my sense of the preciousness of life – and of the opportunity that travel bestows to lose oneself to special places and people, and to grow ever bigger therein — seemed to expand and expand and expand, until it filled the phosphorescent night.

Continuities in Connecticut

For Thanksgiving, as I have every year since my dad passed away in 2008, I went to Connecticut to spend the holiday with my mom. You have to be a New Englander to appreciate the bleak beauty of Connecticut in November. The tree branches are bony and bare, the air thin, brittle, laced with winter. Yet these annual journeys are a special kind of pilgrimage for me. My parents finished building the house where I grew up, in Middlebury, just before I was born. I lived there for the first 21 years of my life, before setting off for Paris and Athens and points beyond, and they lived there for more than 50 years. My mom thrives in an assisted living facility in a neighboring town now, but as we do every year, we drove to Middlebury to see “our house” and reveled again in its spare, simple, classic Connecticut-clapboard style and in the expansive woods and fields and memories around.

For Thanksgiving dinner, my childhood best friend invited us to his home, coincidentally five minutes from my mom’s new home. It was glorious to re-immerse ourselves for a night in the footloose past – somehow symbolized for me by the image of the two of us driving in his convertible on a sultry summer night for soft ice cream, me staring at the stars as the wind whipped by and wishing that the ride could last forever. The woods were limitless then and so were the summer nights; it’s only later that we realize there were houses on the other side of the trees, and jobs and mortgages on the other side of the ride.

But still, these Thanksgiving journeys are a gift to cherish, an opportunity to honor, connect, and reflect. Like Brigadoon, Middlebury springs to life for me once a year: the rolling hills and uncut forests, white Colonial houses with black shutters, lush lawns and gardens and sheltering trees, the high-steepled Congregational Church and round town green – and the landscape of love that nurtured, and nurtures still, me and my youthful dreams.

Easter Island, Among the Moai

I returned two weeks ago from my final trip of the year – the realization of one of my oldest travel dreams: to visit Easter Island. For years this almost inconceivably remote place – the most isolated inhabited island in the world — seemed inaccessible, but I was finally fortuitously able to make the pilgrimage this year.

I spent a week wandering the island on foot, tracing old trails, talking with the guardians of sacred sites, watching traditional dances, exploring caves and coves and cliffs. I observed as a local elder instructed a half dozen Rapa Nui (the indigenous people’s name for the island and for themselves) teenagers in the stories of the island, the traditions and the taboos, the legends and the landscapes that had special mana. I learned the different theories about the moai and wondered at the great toppled figures that seemed to be everywhere. Many people have developed definitive explanations for what happened on Easter Island – which means, of course, that no one has the definitive answer. On the flight back from the island to Santiago, Chile, I serendipitously sat next to a Dutch scientist who has been studying the island for two decades and who told me that he and a colleague are going to publish a book next year that will refute the currently advanced theories. And so it goes.

What I have taken away most deeply from Rapa Nui is this: On the second full day of my stay on the island, I decided to get up before dawn to commune with the moai at Ahu Tongariki, a spectacular seaside platform where 15 statues have been restored to standing position. I was dropped at the site well before dawn, when the night was still so inky that I couldn’t see the ground in front of me, much less the moai in the distance. I stumbled slowly towards the platform, looking vainly into the dark, and then in an instant I sensed the presence of the moai so palpably that the hairs on my arms stood on end. I stumbled forward some more and suddenly the head of the tallest statue leaped into looming silhouette before the stars. The power of that statue was almost magnetic: It pulled me towards it, but not in a frightening way, more like a benevolent force.

As I got closer, the heads of the statues appeared more clearly, silhouetted presences hulking into the sky. I could feel the sheer immensity of the figures, and the power that they must have emanated over the villagers who lived under their gaze day and night. I tried to imagine waking up every dawn to their stony presence, and retiring to sleep as they loomed into the sky. Their role as a force in everyday life became clear to my core. Their mana was undeniable.

As time passed and dawn’s rays illumined them in a buttery light, their hold on me softened. Dozens of photographers arrived, setting up their tripods, seeking the perfect perspective. The site was no longer mine alone. But it didn’t matter. I’d already found the perfect perspective – and it looms within me still, a hulking silhouette of pure Rapa Nui mana in my mind.

At the end of these reflections, the theme that resonates with me is this: Anything is possible. Each one of these magical moments forms a piece of a picture-puzzle that shows the potential of life, wherever we are literally and metaphorically, to be transformed, re-inspired, completed – for the mind to stretch, and the soul to soar, and the heart to expand.

I relearned this year just how full of marvel our mundane world is. And I learned again that life follows a mysterious and serendipitous map, that confluences and convergences abound all around, and that we can choose to open ourselves to them – to leap through the door, set foot on the road — or not. I learned again that passion is the best signpost, honor the best staff, and kindness the compass that illumines the path. And that however we wander this human race, the love we give returns to us, boundless with each embrace.

[Photo Credits - Book Passage: Spud Hilton; All others: Don George]